Partner of a person present and settled in the UK

The non-European Economic Area (non-EEA) partners of British citizens or people settled in the UK (those who hold Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), settled status or permanent residence) can apply for a visa under the family route to join or remain with their partner in the UK.

Overview

This category is currently only relevant to non-EEA nationals wishing to join their partner in the UK. However, from 1 January 2021, the UK will introduce a new system of immigration control, where EEA and Swiss nationals (EEA nationals) will be subject to the same controls as non-EEA nationals.

EEA nationals wishing to come to the UK after this date with their British or settled partner will need to apply for immigration permission and this route is one of the options that would be available to them. The category allows both spouses and unmarried partners to come to the UK.

Partners who remain in the UK under this category for a certain period (see below) may be eligible to apply for ILR (also known as permanent residence or settlement). It is important to note that there is no limit to the number of times an applicant may apply to extend their visa, provided the relationship with their partner is still genuine and ongoing. Furthermore, there is no residence requirement for extending the visa or applying for ILR, however, the applicant must be able to prove that they are living, and intend to continue living, with their partner permanently in the UK.

Initial visa requirements

Although the application is usually made from overseas, an application can be made in the UK if the applicant is already in the UK and holds a long-term visa valid for over six months. Consequently, visitors cannot apply in the UK and must apply from their country of nationality or a country in which they hold long-term immigration permission. 

The basic criteria are as follows.

  • The applicant and their partner must be at least 18 years of age.
  • The applicant and their partner must have met and intend to live together permanently in the UK.
  • Relationship: applicants must prove that they are in a genuine and ongoing relationship with their partner as either:
    • a spouse (evidenced by a marriage certificate); or
    • an unmarried partner (evidenced by documentation showing that the applicant and their partner have lived together for at least two years in a relationship akin to marriage).
  • English language: unless the applicant is a national of a majority English speaking country or has a qualifying degree taught in English, they must pass an approved English language test at level A1 or higher of the Common European Framework of Reference of Languages (CEFR).
  • Accommodation: the applicant will need to provide evidence demonstrating that they have “adequate” accommodation in the UK:
    • accommodation can mean a flat, house or a room in a shared property; and
    • accommodation is adequate if it is not overcrowded or breaking public health regulations.
  • Financial requirement: the sponsor (that is, the British citizen or settled person) must evidence that they have an annual income of at least £18,600. The sponsor’s income must be higher if any dependent children who are not British or EEA nationals are also applying. The financial requirement can be met by using the sponsor’s gross annual salary, savings alone, or a combination of the two. In our experience, the most common ways that the financial requirement is demonstrated is as follows.
    • Income: if the income is from employment, the sponsor must earn a pre-tax annual salary of at least £18,600 (higher if dependants are involved). The employment must have lasted for at least six consecutive months before the application is submitted. If the income is from self-employment, the sponsor must provide evidence of their income from the last full financial year.
    • Savings: in order to rely on savings alone, they must amount to at least £62,500 and must have been held in a bank account for the six consecutive months before the application is submitted. Savings can be held in either the sponsor’s, the applicant’s or in joint names.
    • Investments: funds previously held in investments, stocks, shares, bonds or trust funds can count if they are liquidated before the application. There is no requirement to liquidate these six months before the application. However, if the investments are liquidated less than six months before submission, evidence must be provided of the value of the investments from six months before the application is submitted up to the point they were liquidated.

Provided the application is successful, the applicant will be granted entry to the UK as a partner for two years and nine months, or two years and six months if they are applying in the UK.

Requirements for an extension

To apply for an extension, the applicant must:

  • continue to be in a genuine ongoing relationship with their partner;
  • be continuing to live with their partner permanently in the UK – this can be met by providing evidence of cohabitation in the UK from the date the applicant was initially granted immigration permission under this category;
  • meet the accommodation and financial requirements specified above (the financial requirement can now be met through income received by either the applicant or their partner or a combination); and
  • pass English language requirements. Unless the applicant is a national of a majority English speaking country or has a qualifying degree taught in English, they must pass an approved English language test at level A2 or higher of the CEFR (note that this is a higher level than for the initial application).

Provided the applicant meets the above criteria, they should be granted an extension for a further two years and six months.

ILR and naturalisation as a British citizen

After five years’ residence in the UK, the applicant may apply for ILR provided they continue to meet the requirements for the category. The applicant will also need to demonstrate that they can communicate in English at level B1 or higher of the CEFR (note that this is a higher level than for the initial and extension application) and pass the Life in the UK test.

Those applicants married to British citizens can apply to naturalise as a British citizen immediately after obtaining ILR, provided they meet the residence requirements, which are that they must not have been absent from the UK for more than:

  • 270 days in total in the last three years before applying for British citizenship; or
  • 90 days in the last 12 months before applying for British citizenship.

Those applicants not married to British citizens can apply to naturalise as a British citizen after holding ILR for 12 months. The applicant must demonstrate that they have not been absent from the UK for more than:

  • 450 days in total in the last five years before applying for British citizenship; or
  • 90 days in the last 12 months before applying for British citizenship.

Conclusion

The partner of a British or settled person in the UK category is a great route for those wishing to relocate to the UK with their British or settled partner. It allows applicants to work or study in the UK without restriction and can lead to ILR and British citizenship.

However, in our experience, many applicants struggle to meet the financial requirements for the initial application, even where, between them, the couple have a substantial income. This is normally because either the British or settled partner is not working or the couple do not hold savings in the manner prescribed by the category. In addition, the evidence required to satisfy the financial requirements is quite onerous. It is therefore vital, when applying under this category, that applicants make sure that they provide all the documents specified for the way in which they are meeting the financial requirements.

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